Imagine a collection of books that allowed for you to everyday hear the very voice of God. Consider adding to that collection stories of righteous prophets, holy wars, acts of valor, and slaves being freed. And then, throw into that collection personal prison letters, a God who came to earth, and more. Then, envision the entire collection being ancient, from another time, but still incredibly relevant. You already know I’m talking about the Bible. Now, let’s go through six steps to take your Bible study from dull to incredible.
1. Change the subject of your study.
Bible study should be about knowing God as Creator, Jesus who came to earth, and Spirit present with believers. God is the subject of the Bible and should be the subject of our study. It’s not the Bible we worship, but the living God, who came to this very earth as a human, as Jesus, to die for all of our wrongdoings and rise again.
If our Bible study is focused on the Bible, we’re really missing the point. Boring study is introduced when we think of the Bible like any other historical work or like a textbook. Jesus himself makes this point to some Jews of his time, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39–40 NIV).
2. Picture it as a movie.
The Bible is full of epic battle scenes and intense drama (read 1–2 Samuel or Acts). In our overly saturated, visual culture, many of us have lost our imaginations. We rely on others to imagine for us, in the forms of movies and other mediums. I think this is tragic, because it’s in imagination that we find the will power to make the world a better place.
The patriarchs of Israel, the few great kings over God’s people, and the righteous prophets, were great visionaries of a better life. They studied God’s past actions (often through the oral tradition of the time) and then prayerfully sought the will of God for the present. Through times of prayer they were able to see what others could not—a life lived for God, full of spiritual (and often physical) plenty. This vision is carried forward with Jesus’ disciples, who have an opportunity to execute the vision of the living God on earth. And we too are meant to imagine the past, both as it was and as it could have been, so that we can envision a better future.
3. Decide which character you are.
Jesus told lots of stories—great parables that were meaningful (see Matthew 13). It’s easy to forget when reading these that the point of them is to identify with the characters: We either are meant to realize that we’re one of the characters or comprehend that we’re yet to live like the characters do. When we do so, Jesus’ words move from obscure to real. He’s telling us something we can do right now. When we hear Jesus, we’re meant to take action; we’re meant to do what he’s just asked. This takes the Bible from words on paper to words lived out.
4. Pray about the next steps.
Prayer is perhaps the most undervalued element in western Christianity (compare Philippians 4:2–6). Sure, we pray over meals and even pray for people publicly, but modern prayer is often treated like asking God to grant our wishes. In actuality, it’s a conversation—he talks and we talk, in a dialogue—and one that should be full of thanksgiving. It’s an opportunity to align ourselves with God so that we can do what he has in store for us. It’s where we learn who we are and what we’re meant to be. It’s where we take the words of the Bible to God and request that he change us, so that we may do what he’s already commanded for all people (compare Matthew 6:5–15; 6:25–7:12).
Without prayer, Bible study will continue to be like studying another book. Indeed, you may improve your life, but you will not be holistically changed. God has the ability to make you better than you could ever imagine being, which certainly will not be easy (it means changing), but will be well worth the journey.
5. Feed your curiosity.
When it comes to Bible study, we tend to set it on a timer. If it doesn’t fit in our devotional time, then we won’t pursue it. But Bible study should be a quest. Faith is an ongoing and epic journey that we live. When you have a question, follow it.
Jesus loved questions—he asked them often (e.g., Matthew 16:13; 21:24–25). When you reach a text, ask questions and keep going until you find answers. Specifically, I recommend reading a biblical book in whole and then going back to ask and answer questions.
In the process of searching for answers, I highly recommend examining multiple viewpoints. It’ll open your eyes to the depth of Scripture. By understanding the various viewpoints within the Christian tradition, you’ll better understand the God we serve. (Tip: A fair and balanced study Bible and a Bible dictionary are critical tools for answering questions.)
6. Live the Bible’s message, seriously.
We should be people who read the Bible and live its message. The Bible is meant to be a transformative text—we’re meant to enter its story and be part of it. When we directly engage issues of extreme poverty and spreading the gospel, we take on the message of the Bible (Matthew 28:16–20; James 1:27). We’re meant to be people who love the impoverished fully, with everything we have. We’re meant to be disciples of Jesus who make disciples of Jesus. It should be our aim to glorify God by living self-sacrificial lives for Christ—dedicated to spreading the message of Jesus, in word and deed.
Bible study should always lead us to action. And our actions should lead us back to the Bible—to understand what God is doing in our lives and world. When you live the story of the Bible, the Bible is never boring. It’s life transforming.
I hope that when you hear the words “Bible study” you’ll no longer think of boring schoolwork or dry lectures. Try turning off the negative reaction to “study” today by remembering that Bible study is about knowing a God who’s left you guidance in a book. He’s also a God who wants to give you personal guidance today. You know what you have to do—go make it happen.
This article is adapted in part from a previously published article by John D. Barry titled “4 Life Changing Ideas for Bible Study.”
John D. Barry is general editor of the NIV Faithlife Study Bible and the CEO of Jesus’ Economy, an innovative non-profit creating jobs and churches in the developing world. At JesusEconomy.org, people create jobs for the impoverished by shopping fair trade. They can also give directly to a cause they’re passionate about, such as creating jobs, planting churches, or meeting basic needs. 100% goes to the developing world. Anyone can join the movement at JesusEconomy.org.
The NIV Faithlife Study Bible (Zondervan, 2017) is filled with innovative graphics, rich commentary, and insights from multiple points of view—all designed to inform readers’ faith and to engage their curiosity, no matter where they are on their faith journey. To learn more, visit www.NIVFaithlifeStudyBible.com.